Interview by Tehani Wessely.
Jo Spurrier was born in 1980 and has a bachelor of science but turned to writing because people tend to get annoyed when scientists make things up. She lives in Adelaide with her husband, two young sons and a formerly feral cat; and tries to find time to write in between cajoling her children to take their naps. She spends a lot of time playing with trains and cars, reading the internet researching her next book and trying to get enough sleep. She may be found hiding inside a blanket fort with notebook & coffee, and still sometimes daydreams about snow.
I know you have a degree in Science but you’re writing fantasy at this point – does your academic background inform your writing?
I don’t think I could write the way I do without my educational background! I majored in Geology, and one of my favourite parts of my degree was the field trips we’d do. They’d truck all us students out to remote areas and turn us loose on a few square km with a rock hammer, a compass and an inclinometer, and we’d spend a few days taking samples and measurements and plotting everything on a map. With this information we’d put together a story spanning billions of years as seas come and go, mountains rise and fall, forests sprout and burn. These are the same skills I use when I’m figuring out a story; I’ll start with a handful of characters, a couple of scenes and a few hints at setting and put them all together to figure out what the world looks like and what sort of story is taking place.
This background also means that I need to know everything I can about my worlds – I need to know what my people eat, what they wear, what their houses look like, what crops they grow and what animals they raise. It’s very easy to get lost down the research rabbit-hole, though. Earlier this year while trying to figure out what a poor cottager would eat I kind of got obsessed with cheese-making, for example. It’s totally irrelevant to the story I’m trying to write (for now, at least), but I’m much happier now that I understand a bit more.
We often ask short story writers if they are working on anything longer, but you are known for your novels and I’m going to reverse that – do you have any short fiction in the works?
I’m currently working on a YA novel, which I’m aiming at about 80 thousand words – that counts as short, for me! But I am still working on a new fantasy doorstopper series, because I’m a glutton for punishment and who needs sleep anyway?
Can you tell us what are you working on at the moment that we might see in the next year or so?
I’m hoping to have the YA ready to shop around within the next year; it’s about a young girl who is sent away to work as a servant, who finds herself in the service of a witch with a rather questionable past, but who badly needs her help. My other piece will take a while longer – it’s dealing with a post-cataclysm society and what happens when you bring technology into a fantasy world. It’s a big beast to tackle, and it’ll be a while before the bones are picked clean and fit for display.
What Australian work have you loved recently?
… I honestly don’t remember what I’ve read lately. I have a 1 year old and a 2.5 year old and I get up at 5:30 in the morning to get some writing done before they wake up. I know I’ve read some books that didn’t rhyme and had more than twenty words per page … didn’t I? Didn’t I???
Which author (living or dead) would you most like to sit next to on a long plane trip and why?
Katherine Kerr, without a doubt – actually, my first-born is named after one of her characters, in a round-about way. Her Deverry Cycle was one of the first fantasy series I ever read, and they’ve stood the test of time far better than many others from back in the day. I’d love to hear about her research, the origin and development of the linguistic rules of her culture … oh, and the dragons. I do love her dragons.